Not all antagonists are fire-breathing Card Carrying Villains. A good many are Plucky Comic Relief Harmless Villains, or just plain incidental annoyances, and these guys just can't be done away with using the same response as the former. It just wouldn't jibe to have a hero beat said antagonist to within an inch of his life for putting itching powder in his cowl, at least not without the hero being an Anti.
These antagonists have a certain degree of Karmic Protection, even though this character outright annoys others they are protected from harm because they genuinely mean well or at least aren't actually harming anyone. These guys and gals have to be dealt with creatively, and some can even be convinced to tone it down. However, if they do turn bad and Kick the Dog, the protection is lost. Underlying all this is the idea that the typical Karmic Trickster shenanigans can only be justified if provoked to avoid appalling the audience.
In that sense, the Karmic Protection extends both ways: it protects the annoyance from real harm, and the hero from karmic backlash as he's perfectly justified in his response. Sometimes though, the attempts at Karmic Protection don't work for some of the audience and just end up with the protagonist looking like a Jerkass and rooting for the supposed antagonist to get one over on this pompous ass who deserved it anyway.
- Batmite and Mxyzptlk usually just end up being sent back to their home dimensions in the end, since they are well-intentioned playful tricksters and not outright evil.
- The Micro-Puffs were specially created for The Powerpuff Girls comic book (never appearing on the TV series). They were essentially distaff Mxyzptlks for the girls.
- This is one of the major reasons why the Protectorate has to be very careful in dealing with humour villains in Nemesis. As long as the public is amused by the humour villain's antics and thinks her harmless, the heroes can't use the same level of force against her that they would use against regular villains without looking like incompetent bumblers if they lose and joyless buzzkills if they win.
- In the various Star Trek series, the Romulans invoke this Trope in their foreign relations. They often don't try to outright start wars, but instead to provoke or more often trick the Federation into doing so. This lets them cling to the moral high ground as they battle. Naturally, the various Trek captains like Kirk and Picard know they're full of crap.
- Omnipresent and occasionally played with in Animaniacs:
- One episode had a nanny parodying The Sound of Music, who greatly annoys the Warner Brothers with her happy demeanor and niceness. The show then breaks the Fourth Wall by showing a kid asking his dad why they don't simply take care of her like they do most of their enemies. The dad answers that she hasn't actually done anything bad to them and genuinely means well. Eventually, the Warners called in a cameo appearance from Slappy Squirrel to deal with her.
- When they occasionally do pester someone who wasn't mean to them first, the character is previously established as a Jerkass (mocking his staff, withholding food, kicking nuns).
- Bugs Bunny was not like that originally, he was more of a prankster, but was turned into this later on.
- Similarly Dick Lundy invented Buzz Buzzard as a more callous foe for Woody Woodpecker, evolving the latter away from his unpunished screwball persona he had against non-provocative victims like Wally Walrus.
- Similarly Jerry of Tom and Jerry fell victim to this more and more in later Hanna-Barbera shorts. In shorts he was defensive and being antagonised by Tom, he usually won. The odd time he started a feud or went overboard in his retaliation, Tom was allowed to have the last laugh.
- There are elements of this in an episode of Kim Possible where Yori and the Sensei convince Ron to go back and help Monkeyfist because even though he's a bad guy, he hasn't meant them any harm this time round.
- Averted in early episodes of The Dreamstone, where the heroes always got a free pass for brutally beating or leaving for dead mundane Minions With An F In Evil, the Urpneys. Later seasons started to inflict the trope, the Urpneys were retooled from pitiful slaves to more Not So Harmless lazy employees, with the heroes rarely taking their retaliations outside the bare means of defensive (one episode their over zeal returned ended on a rather sour note). In a lot of the Urpneys particularly ineffectual schemes, the heroes were retooled into The Fools oblivious to their foes undoing their own schemes for them.
- Generally SpongeBob SquarePants can get away with creating all sorts of havoc (ranging from mild irritation to destroying lives) so long as it's in his well intentioned giddiness. On rare occasions Spongebob deliberately acts like an arrogant or mean spirited Jerkass however, he ends up the Butt-Monkey instead.